The Medtronic VEO: The "Almost" Pancreas
When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1970, my dad fell into despair. My mother took the position of being proactive, deciding her best effort for me would be teaching her 5 year old how to learn to be independent while living with diabetes. But my father couldn't find his feet. He was an airline pilot for TWA and my mother suggested that he use his travels to find the best doctors and research in the field of diabetes. At the same time, Dad met a woman who started a grassroots foundation working toward a cure for diabetes. It was called Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, today JDRF. Through his travels, Dad became close friends with Dr. Bob Tattersall, a diabetes researcher in England, who taught my dad about the disease.
Over the years, my dad became deeply involved with the diabetes community, and in 1978 he became the director of a summer camp for kids with diabetes. Among the campers was a young boy named Jimmy. Jimmy was considered a brittle diabetic. Jimmy was continually in and out of the ER with unconsciousness, DKA, or extreme lows. As a result, he missed lots of school days due to his uncontrolled diabetes. Jimmy's doctor was the doc for the camp and my father stayed in touch with him throughout the year. He would hear discouraging stories of Jimmy's case worsening.
In frustration, my father called his friend, Dr. Tattersall in England, to talk about Jimmy. Dr. Tattersall told my dad that what Jimmy needed was a blood glucose monitor so that they could see exactly what his blood sugar was doing at that precise moment. The UK had done a 3 year study on type 1 pregnant women to show that with better control, type 1 women could have healthier babies and prevent some of the complications for themselves and their babies through blood glucose monitoring. The technology proved so positive that it was made available to the UK diabetes population. But here in the U.S., the FDA failed to see the larger need for every diabetic to have this device and the argument was left in a stalemate for 3 years.
With Jimmy's doctor's approval and Dr. Tattersall's connections, my father and I flew to London and bought a meter to bring back to Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. Jimmy's life vastly improved! His ER visits diminished and his ability to stay in school improved rapidly by using the blood glucose meter. With the help of Jimmy's data, JDRF made the case to the FDA and they finally approved manufacturing in this country!
Last June, news out the UK was the release of a pump called the Medtronic VEO. The VEO is a pump with the technology of continuous glucose monitor, but with the added feature of an automatic shut off of insulin flow, if a low blood sugar is detected. If the CGM reads below 70 it sets off an alarm. If the alarm is not answered, it will shut down the flow of insulin for up to two hours.
This feature would be a lifesaver for many of us. I have countless lows during the week at night, which is when low blood sugars are most common for type 1 people. Clearly, this device is another cutting edge move toward tighter control, which would create better health for those people living with diabetes! Right?
Well, here's the rub. Medtronic, a US based company, rolled out the VEO last June in 50 countries. Our neighbors in Canada can get the VEO, our friends in United Kingdom can get the VEO. The largest consumers of pump technology on the planet, live in the United States! But the VEO is still unavailable to us, because the FDA has questions about its safety.
We have pump technology approved, we have cgm technology approved, we have the statistics regarding the dangers of hypoglycemia unawareness statistics that prove the benefits of the VEO. Yet here we are again. Am I stuck in a time warp?
Medtronic feels they will have the VEO available in the US sometime in 2010. I hope so - because this one would pull me out of my pump vacation!